Innocent until proven guilty – let’s talk about mum guilt

Reading time: 6 min

According to the Mariam Webster online dictionary, the definition of guilt is the following:

  • the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating a law and involving a penalty;
  • feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offences or from a sense of inadequacy;
  • feeling of deserving blame for offences;
  • to persuade (someone) to do something by causing feelings of guilt.

This feeling of guilt is harsh and damaging to any person, especially when it is self-inflicted with no alternative to knowing better because societal expectations are your persecutor. In legal proceedings, we know that a person is innocent until proven guilty and that a “reasonable person test” is applied to understand the actions of a person. This test sets out the possibilities a reasonable person ought to have behaved under a set of circumstances while foreseeing the consequences of their behaviour.

I am going to ask if you would take a moment to apply this test to how you view your actions as a mother and decide for yourself if you are right in feeling mum guilt.

Mum guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong in your role as a mother and responsibility as a parent. Unless you are someone who is neglectful of your child, which would be considered as an offence if proven so, take a moment to understand where your guilty feelings stem from. Remember, even reasonable people make a mistake sometimes, so don’t judge yourself too harshly.

While applying the test, don’t let the criticisms and opinions of others affect your thoughts – these people do not walk in your shoes or live in your circumstances. Once you have isolated areas that cause you to feel guilty, you need to map a way forward that alleviates the overwhelming sense of not being good enough to live up to an illusion.

Let’s prove your innocence and rehabilitate you from those negative feelings one step at a time.

One of the hardest guilt trips I went on was when I had to miss a few school events and my child did not have me in the audience. I was reminded of my absence by other mothers and it just made the guilt more overwhelming. I had to take a step back and realise that my not being present did not mean that I did not want to be there, but that I had to be somewhere else at the time.

Before the event I had apologised to my child for my absence; I explained where I had to be and what I had to do. He understood and said, “It’s okay, maybe next time.” Since then, if I cannot attend, I have recruited other people to stand in for me and make videos. I also talk to co-workers to arrange times for me to be able to attend events if I can. When I miss the event, I make every effort to take time out to find out about it in detail and let him give me the full rundown.

“Parenting is mostly about teaching your children life lessons and hope that, as they grow older, they can tell wrong from right using the sense of a reasonable person.”

When I feel the pangs of regret, I remind myself that the sun still comes up and everyone survived my absence.  Know that your child, like mine, is forgiving and will appreciate your explanation. These moments empower their character and personality, so talk to your child and develop their level of understanding that parents have other responsibilities too, but this does not diminish their responsibility towards them.

Parenting is mostly about teaching your children life lessons and hoping that, as they grow older, they can tell wrong from right using the sense of a reasonable person. One life lesson you need them to understand is how dangerous overcommitting themselves can be for their emotional well-being by role modelling how to compartmentalise responsibilities. For example, if someone demands their time and efforts, they may find themselves saying yes to all play dates or party invitations or assisting their friends with school projects, which may be to the detriment of their own time, commitments and emotional well-being.

Teach them to choose how to prioritise and only select tasks in a day that can be done which are essential for getting through the day and in preparation for the next. You can do this together as a family that involves communicating with each other so that your children have a view on how each of you fit into working hours. Then practise what you preach so that you are also not overcommitting yourself and feeling guilty for not giving your 100% to all tasks.

Once a routine has been established, you can assist your children to work out a weekly plan for all of you, sharing the responsibility of running the household with them while they understand their scholastic requirements. For instance, they need to let you know in advance if they will require store-bought items or work a meal plan for the week so that you know your food preparation times or if you need to stop for takeout.

Have calm, age-appropriate conversations with your child when you start feeling overwhelmed and let them know what it takes for you to get through the day. Talking to your children gives them some insight into your life so that they understand your frustrations better. Allow everyone to constructively contribute to the conversation to find solutions to dissolve your frustration. Having these open conversations will also get your children to tell you about their day and any frustrations they are facing as well. Seeking your advice or even just an ear to convert frustrations into constructive dialogue will show you that you are just the parent they need.

If your children are too young to understand what you are going through, reach out to your supporters, your friends and family who give you motivational feedback and seek assistance from them if they offer to help.  If you feel isolated, join support groups online and communities of women and mothers who uplift one another while also sharing constructive advice and information.

This article in no way diminishes any parental ‘guilt’ that a father may feel. It focuses on the feelings of the mother. A follow-up article will engage on the responsibilities and role that a father has in his child’s life. Reassurance is key – tell yourself that you are doing the best you can in the circumstances you are in. Surround yourself with positive people who will lift you up and support you. You are good enough.

The content of this article is not legal advice. For more information on creating a parenting plan and routine for your family, contact Fair Practice on info@fairpractice.co.za.

Also read:

There are things I feel mom guilt for, but not these …
Ditch the mommy guilt